The Thunderbird Lodge

George Whittell, Jr.
09-28-1881 to 04-18-1969

George Whittell Jr. was born with a golden spoon in his mouth. He inherited $30 Million dollars from his San Francisco family. His father. George Sr. made much of his money by investing in the Comstock Lode in Nevada. He grew up in a Nob Hill mansion at 1155 California St. across the street from the Charles Crocker mansion, the mansion is no longer there. George Jr’s father got him into the Italian Red Cross during WWI as a Captain and ambulance driver. Whittell’s third marriage was to the daughter of the third richest San Francisco family in 1919.

Whittell was able to turn the $30 million dollar inheritance in the stock market to $50 million dollars before divesting himself of all stocks prior to the 1929 Crash, making him one of California’s richest. This all happened prior to Whittell’s 50 birthday. Norman H. Biltz "The Duke of Nevada" offered Whittell the real estate deal of the century 33,000 acres of the Nevada portion of Lake Tahoe. This was all the real estate from Crystal Bay to Zephyr Cove owned by the Carson Tahoe Lumber and Flume Co. Whittell acquired this real estate for approximately $2,700,000 or $81.00 per acre in 1936. (

Whittell promised Biltz he was going to develop the real estate and he would pay him commissions as he did, that did not happen. The only sales that occurred were the Skyland Subdivison to the Stockton Garden of Homes, all the land to the John "Jack" Dreyfus Estate which the USFS now owns and has never opened it up to the public, the Zephyr Cove Lodge to Gene Emphey which the USFS also owns now Whittell also gave Douglas County the land on both sides of Warrior Way. for the schools and a park across Hwy. 50.

Thunderbird Yacht

George Whittell liked the name Thunderbird it was the name for his lodge at Tahoe that Frederic Delongchamps a well know Reno architect designed his yacht and his DC-2 airplane. Whittell had the yacht designed to resemble the fuselage of his airplane. The Thunderbird yacht was designed by John L Hacker a very well know boat designer and built by Huskins Boat Works in Bay City Michigan The yacht was 55 feet long built with double planked mahogany and polished stainless steel It was powered by twin V12, 550 HP Kermath engines giving the yacht the power to achieve a speed of 60 knots almost 70 mph. The yacht cost $87.000 to build in 1940, Whittell was 59 years old. This was another toy for Whittell's life style at Lake Tahoe. An expensive yacht like this required a boathouse which Whittell had built at the Thunderbird Lodge. The boathouse is 100 feet long, there is a 600 foot tunnel with a dungeon that connects it to the lodge so that Whittell and his guests could get to the yacht without being exposed to the weather day or night and there were nights that Whittell was partying.

He did not not get to use it very much Whittell broke his hip, instead of going to doctors to have it fixed he let it heal improperly putting himself into a wheel chair. To add to his toys Whittell owned 6 Duesenbergs, this is one of them. Between his health issues and hiding the yacht so the United States did not take it to use in the war effort. Whittell wanted Bill Harrah to buy the yacht because he knew Harrah could afford to take care of it. At the time he sold the yacht to Harrah the engines only had hours on them 98.

The Thunderbird while owned by Bill Harrah under went some major remodeling. Harrah added the flying bridge. He created the cocktail lounge style booths on the main deck. Even though the engines on the Thunderbird only were almost new they were not fast enough for Harrah. He installed 2 1100 Horsepower Allison V-12 aircraft engines. Harrah took the Thunderbird to Reno every winter to be worked on. On one of those trips the polished steel top was taken off by the over pass in Washoe Valley on Hwy. 395.

George and Elia Whittell also owned a home in Woodside, California. Whittell married this wife in 1919. Until 1929 this was their only home. The home was built on 50 acres of land in San Mateo County by George Whittell, Sr. The house and real estate were valued at $333,000. The home was a large 2 story, with a 6 car garage, servants, cottages, dairy buildings, a theater, gate keepers lodge, and a swimming pool. This property was owned by Whittel Realty Co. a private corporation, which he leased the house from for $750 per month. The company also owned many other sustantial commercial properties in San Francisco.

Elia Whittellspent most of her time at this residence because she did not approve of George's life style. Many of Whittell's animals were kept here during Tahoe's winters. There was also an elephant house for Whittle's 2 ton India elephant named Mango. Whittle was also known to have a couple of cats including a lion named Bill.

George Whittell, Jr. was buried in Coloma, CA, at the Cypress Hill Cemetery in 1969. John "Jack" Dreyfus the founder of the Wall Street Dreyfus Fund, known as the Lion, acquired the Thunderbird Lodge and 10,000 acres from Whittell's estate. He then started making changes to the Lodge in 1985 to make it more to his liking unfortunately. When he died in 1995 his estate sold the Thunderbird Lodge and his Zephyr Cove estate to the USFS.